Looks like India is reasonably happy with Pranabda's performance. This budget has been declared growth oriented by those who 'know'. As for me...well.... this column says it all.
Nani ki yaad aayi
The most tiresome and seriously annoying aspect of the annual water torture, also known as the Budget, is the pre- and post- analysis of the damn thing! Experts all but crawl out of the woodwork around this time of the year, and give gyaan to the nation via soundbytes and quotes that nobody can decode. It’s just so much hot air and gas, that were Brothers Ambani to tap and pipe it, most of their problems would get automatically solved. After the death of Nani Palkhiwala, the one man who could effectively deconstruct the bloody Budget for the aam janata, nobody but nobody has been able to tell us what we already know - pay more! One just had to read Palkhiwala’s lips as he held centrestage on the expansive lawns of the CCI, to appreciate his genius. Take me. I am embarrassingly numbers challenged ( okay, now that I’ve revealed one secret, I may as well go the whole hog and reveal another – I can’t read balance sheets!). But even dumbo me would turn up faithfully to hang on to Nani’s every word. Needless to say nothing registered!
It was as much for the performance as for the gyaan – Nani was the SRK of the finance world. Big difference being he worked without someone else’s script and pretty much relied on memory, preferring to speak extempore - no teleprompters, cue sheets, not even a scrap of paper ( take that, Mr. Obama!). His recall for reams of data was so faultless, he’d leave even the most erudite analysts in the audience totally speechless as he reeled off numbers effortlessly, and put the Budget into a comprehensible format for informed citizens. Mind you, Nani commanded the sort of audience that today’s Bollywood stars with all their clout, muscle and p.r. power cannot! People would start queuing up bright and early to grab the best seats on the grounds, and remain rooted to their uncomfortable chairs till Nani concluded his speech ( a daunting , marathon effort extending well over two hours). It was one annual event that attracted the most eclectic crowd. I cannot imagine any personality other than Sachin Tendulkar being in a position to pull off a similar feat.But given the present generation’s shrinking attention span, I also wonder whether Nani would have been able to attract the same numbers today.
I tried very hard to comprehend Mamata’s railway budget ( no steam in this engine, alas), but promptly abandoned the exercise when I acknowledged a basic lack of interest within myself – when was the last time I jumped on a train? See?? That’s really how it works, whether we face it or not. Selfishness rules. We breathlessly await the latest Budget only to pounce on those aspects which impact our lives directly – be honest. Do you really get into a blue fog worrying about tax implications affecting kerosene prices? Do you have toor daal on your mind on Budget Day? Or even two wheeler prices? All you want to know in the broadest of terms is – what’s in it for me, if anything? Higher prices are a given. So are even higher taxes. You have already reconciled yourself to that. You want to know just one thing – where will the extra lolly come from?? And how badly are you going to be hit this time?? That you are going to be hit, has been factored in. Remember darlings - there is no such thing as a ‘good’ Budget. Every new Budget is a killer, one way or the other. Which is why it is important to ignore all those grim faced farts on tv telling us about less pain in the future. Take a walk, you guys. When will you stop bull- shitting? Spare us your ‘expert’ comments, and the cheesy, ‘no pain, no gain’ rubbish. We prefer listening to our wallets. And the story they tell is vastly different.
Each year, we generate hype just before Judgement Day. It is a particularly masochistic exercise, and no other developed country in the world makes quite such a ludicrous song and dance over what is after all nothing more dramatic than a routine annual statement about the government’s finances. We are the ones who create all the dramabaazi around the Budget and treat the entire exercise as a Reality Show, with the F.M. playing the key role. ‘‘Kaun Banega Crorepati??” You know the answer to that one – nobody! At least, not on paper, and not if Pranab can help it! Our government’s main aim, it would appear, is to make sure we stay true to some outdated socialist dream and such obscenities do not happen. But nobody actually spells it out. Instead we talk around the subject, and complicate it further. Pranab’s performance will be taken apart on several levels, since his oratorial skills, leave most Indians ( okay, make that non- Bengalis) entirely befuddled. Unlike his predecessors, Pranab does not recite shair –shairis, quote Shakespeare or Ghalib. Tagore?? But again, unlike his predecessors, Pranab believes in telling it like it is, minus sugar coating or frivolous frills. And essentially, he says just one thing – pay up! That’s the message. “Or else” , follows! The aam janata gets the message pronto. Pranab does not prescribe to painless surgery.
Whoever invented the term ‘stimulus package’ was a smart cookie. It sounded sexy. Was sexy. And the strategy worked. Unfortunately, the stimulus on offer was not exactly financial Viagra and most companies could not get it up on demand. Miracles were expected ( as unrealistic as immaculate conception). Withdrawal of stimulus is like coitus interruptus…but clearly, it is the UPA government’s call, and gives another angle to the India growth story. The dream is technicoloured and big. Like Anil Ambani’s latest venture.Analysts are claiming anything from 8% to 11% - kuch, kuch hota hai! But all that comes later, once the dust settles down, and we stop cribbing. India without perennial cribbers would be so damn boring! We like cribbing! It is our birthright. So, even as we moan and groan, sulk and sigh, the Budget ki Kahani will not last beyond this weekend. It is a little like MNIK – so much publicity before the release of the film. And then what? Money in the bank for the canny producers. But the aam janata was left trying to figure out how to pronounce ‘Asperger’s’ and whether or not to admit in public that nobody had heard of the syndrome till Rizwan came on the scene. Pranab is as big as SRK - at least at this time of the year. And like SRK, he too is used to the flack that goes with his portfolio.
I am not complaining. I am sensibly holding my tongue. You know why?? I don’t get it – the Budget, I mean. And it’s stupid to try and deconstruct anything I can’t figure out. As it goes every year, I’ll simply shrug philosophically and pay up, humming ‘Kabhie Khushi, Kabhie Gham.”
Nani Palkhiwala…. where are you when we need you the most???